The wellness policy at Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) recently received one of the highest scores given by the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH).

The policy, which guides the district in establishing a healthy environment that promotes student health, wellbeing and learning ability, was awarded 170 out of 200 points.

“Wellness is a key component in the lives of every student, staff member and family in the district,” said IPS Superintendent Dr. Aleesia Johnson. “We are very thankful for the hard work of people from across the district who participated in group discussions and meaningful one-on-one sessions that led to the improvement of our policy. Especially during the challenging times that we find ourselves in now, it’s critically important that we are anchored in supporting the wholeness and wellness of our IPS community — staff and students.”

The IDOH evaluated the policy based on content and strength of wording.  

According to the IDOH report, “…IPS’s wellness policy is a fantastic example of a model wellness policy, and we commend you on your efforts. Furthermore, we recognize and understand the uniqueness of the IPS school district in both the number and variation of individual schools within; we can imagine that writing a policy to fit each individual school can be challenging.”

The policy’s strengths include:

  • Guidance to ensure staff is actively involved in promoting healthy habits.
  • An active and well-established District Wellness Team, with a wide variety of stakeholders as well as administrative support.
  • Membership guidelines for each School Wellness Team, which will be incredibly valuable in implementing the policy.
  • A high level of detail provided throughout the policy, including examples and options to ensure implementation is successful (e.g., requiring 2 out of 5 farm-to-school activities).
  • A recognition of the equal importance of both nutrition and physical activity, as both topics are essential to health and wellbeing. Not every school/school district in Indiana is able or decides to focus on both areas of health.
  • An adherence to the federal and state guidelines regarding physical activity and nutrition.

Opportunities for improvement include requiring physical education classes for middle and high school students to be at least 225 minutes per week (45 minutes daily), for all grade levels — not just elementary school — to have activity breaks, and that foods not be used as a reward.

Other suggestions include reducing or even eliminating exemptions for fundraisers selling food items not meeting nutrition standards, prohibiting the sale of caffeinated beverages in high schools and providing additional detail regarding food policies in after-school events to stipulate that they meet nutrition standards.

Under the leadership of Jessica Dunn, IPS executive director of enrichment programs, Dena Bond, IPS food department director, and Kathy Langdon, IPS district physical education/health coach, the IPS district wellness team began revising and updating its wellness policy in early 2021 and met regularly with IDOH officials to learn how to make the policy more comprehensive. The project’s leadership also sought input from various IPS leaders, staff and community partners.

IPS also partnered on the project with Jump IN for Healthy Kids, a community-wide initiative helping to provide families in Central Indiana with real opportunities to make healthy choices.

The strength of IPS’s wellness policy is thanks in part to Jump IN for Healthy Kids, a central Indiana health initiative that works to embed healthy best practices into environments where children spend most of their time. 

Jump IN’s schools program, Jump Right UP has partnered with IPS for the last five years to offer direct technical assistance in creating strong wellness policies based on the CDC’s WSCC (Whole School, Whole Child, Whole Community) model, plans for policy execution, and a system of accountability to ensure sustainable integration of these best practices.  Research shows that the WSCC model contributes not only to healthier schools but helps address inequities in education, and an improvement in student success. 

The updated wellness policy was approved by the IPS Board of School Commissioners in 2021.